school

TRAPPED IN A WORLD WE NEVER MADE

Here's the thing. We have no idea at all about the world we live in.

And that scares us.

We can make guesses, based on the evidence of our senses. But those are the same senses which lead us to mistake one person for another, make faulty assumptions about what the weather is and will be like, encourage us to eat and drink stuff that's bad for us.

So we know we're not to be trusted.

And this is where the problem starts.

Rather than accept our ignorance, we look for a more certain mapping of the world than we can provide for ourselves. So we turn to others. At which point it goes horribly wrong.

We assume as children that our parents have built up more knowledge about the world than we have. And that's true in some respects. But as we grow older we come to accept that there are occasions when the knowledge of those who have brought us into this world is lacking. Someone told me how a two year-old showed their mother how to do some stuff with a tablet device the other day. It won't be the first time that infant realises its parent doesn't have a comprehensive map of the world we live in.

If parents are dubious, school is infinitely worse. For the most part, education is very little about how to understand the world. Instead, we're offered predigested versions of it. You might be lucky enough to encounter some kind teachers along the way, but the institution itself only has an incidental relationship with the spirit of inquiry.

School prepares us for a world that none of us have much clue about by giving us some preset routines for dealing with it. The key word here is obedience. Stay within the lines that are drawn for and around you. Accept what questions can be asked, and which are inappropriate. Accept the answers to those questions since having a consensus means people think more or less the same, at least in whatever part of the world you landed in.

People thinking more or less the same supports the delusion that someone knows something. And the media reinforce that slender grasp on things through messages which reinforce the stuff which school introduced us to. If we're all thinking pretty much the same stuff, and the things we watch and listen to and read support those notions, we're probably doing something right, right?

By the time we're adults, the tentative understanding we have of the world is pretty much fixed. Without it, what is there? We get up early to travel somewhere and perform tasks that are hopefully useful to others in some way, in return for being allowed to get by in a fashion we find acceptable. And if within all that, we find a few people who are special to us, where maybe love exists, even fleetingly - that's what keeps us going. I know it does for me.

Without that sense of connection, of some kind of community, then all the explanations and excuses and dangled prizes and consolations are worthless. Which hopefully tells us something - that the deal we're presented with, in which we broadly accept what we're told and do what we're told...is bullshit.

The more love and connection I feel, the more bullshit I see. The horrors of Paris aren't explained by the idea that evil people are set on destroying our way of life. Start to explore that, and it's not long before you realise that those deaths were caused by people whose false certainties have a different flavour to our own, reacting to the aggression of oil-hungry countries resentful at having to run their bloated economies with resources they don't directly control.

The terror in terrorism isn't just about the chaos and pain it creates. It's about the terror that the stories we're forcefed by schools and government and media are just as arbitrary and nonsensical as the beliefs we mock when they're expressed by people who dress and speak differently to us.

Real terror for me is the knowledge that most of us are capable of appalling acts, just because someone requests them of us. That's the conclusion from the classic experiments in obedience that Stanley Milgram conducted. Just by asking, you can get someone to torture another if you do so while wearing a labcoat. And we've got plenty of people who aren't wearing labcoats asking us to do things that aren't torture, but which we go along with anyway.

The alternative involves experiencing the real fear of finding things out for ourselves. Start with the realisation that the best of what you know is love and connection, and you'll likely find out you're up to the challenge.

 

LEARNING HOW TO LEARN, AGAIN

I've been thinking about learning.

It's interesting to me at this point, as I plan some training events.

I'm fortunate in that I've been trained by some extraordinary people. Which isn't the same as being trained extraordinarily well. And I'm wondering what it is that meant some experiences transformed me in some way, however small - while others, as interesting as they may have been, seem to have left little or no impact.

The well known people I've trained with - at least, well known in the sense they have a reputation in the goldfish bowl of NLP - include Richard Bandler, Michael Breen, Eric Robbie, and Carmen Bostic St Clair. All are unquestionably exceptional at what they do and how they do it. And part of what makes them special is their uniqueness. Whatever they're presenting, they do so 100% as themselves. Brilliant technique is there, for sure - and it's largely invisible. I wouldn't pretend to be able to unpack everything of what they do. But I do have insights, and those insights - and the opportunity to put them into practice - have enabled me to raise my own game.

I'm more interested at this point in people who excelled at helping me to learn without having a framework like NLP to support them. My father was one. A gifted storyteller himself, he recognised that from an early age I was fascinated by stories, and as well as telling me ones he knew, made sure I got to be around people who would tell me theirs. Some of those people were his students, who came from countries I knew as names in an atlas - Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Nigeria, Uganda. That was an incalculable gift. And those students became part of my life growing up, and I learned from their experience of being students in a country that was alien to them, too. Learning about different worldviews within a theoretical context is one thing: I was aware of that without having the vocabulary for it by experiencing a rich chorus of perspectives first hand. Hearing those stories from people who had grown up, in villages without electricity say, or in places where lethal violence was an everpresent possibility, helped me realise that what I heard from people who happened to share my country of origin described only a tiny fraction of what came under the heading of truth.

Some of my teachers and tutors have been wonderful. And what makes them exceptional is an ability to both tease out nuances that helped me understand a detail, and to put such details in the context of a bigger picture. Part of the skill involved is in doing so at the right time. The learner needs to be ready for such a step up, and recognising that people are at such a point is itself a skill for the teacher/tutor/trainer.

I'm also clear about what a bad training experience consists of. And sadly, my version of that is pretty commonplace. For me, it's typified by a session when I was a support worker at a hostel for vulnerable adults. The supposed workshop consisted of someone putting a word on a flipchart, and asking those assembled their feelings about that word. Some of what was said was duly noted on the flipchart. Which if your goal is to collect words about other words is great. When the goal is allegedly to give people skills and knowledge, then the result is failure. Having a group of people emote in a room together may be useful in some therapeutic contexts, but it was of zero value for the purpose we were assembled.

Sensitivity to where a group is and wants to go is important. And that can mean changing plan midflow. One of the best examples of that I experienced was at secondary school. Our English teacher was supposed to get us to read a Robert Louis Stevenson book...but not one we had any interest in. We were given decades-old copies of Master Of Ballantrae to read, and none of us were in a mood for 18th century Scotland - the school felt pretty much like that anyway. So, we went on strike. Next lesson, the smart teacher passed round copies of A Kestrel for a Knave - aka Kes - by Barry Hines for us - very much of our own era. I actually suspect the teacher in question, a marvellous man called Gary Hedges, may have set up the Stevenson revolt as a way of getting some good new contemporary fiction into a reactionary school overfond of its past.

The sophisticated methods I'm aware of and make use of aren't going away. What interests me at this point is utilising them in a wider framework, so that I can dip into using a flipchart if that's useful. Use a question as a means of creating a group discussion. Stop everything to make the most of something happening outside. Hey, maybe I can even make PowerPoint into an artform. It's worth finding out, and that's where I am as I bubble up these new trainings and what goes into them.